Visiting Norway, Mystery Author Style

Visiting Norway, Mystery Author Style

Can a mystery author who writes about sunny Mexico really love cold places?

Yep. Besides Mexico, where my mystery series is set, my favorite country (except for home) is Norway. Not only does the country have superb natural vistas of mountains and fjords, but Norway’s history is likewise fairly amazing, if little known. Yes, Virginia, there’s more to Norway than Vikings, Voss water, and fellow mystery author Jo Nesbo.

Spectacular moments and singular people

Amundsen with dogsled and flag

Picture of Roald Amundsen courtesy The Sunday Times, UK

  • Norwegian Roald Amundsen led the first expedition to the South Pole, beating out British explorer Robert Scott
Nansen passport

Picture courtesy World Digital Library

  • Norwegian explorer and statesman Fritjof Nansen’s Nansen Passport enabled WWI refugees to remake their lives
Norwegian resistance fighters

Picture courtesy

  • The Norwegian Resistance fought during WWII  with courage and distinction

Related post: Remembering Resistance 

  • The nation of Rohan in the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy looked eerily like Norway’s traditional architecture. Okay, so this is the fabled battle scene when the Rohirrim ride against the orcs, not anything architectural. But a great bit of film and you should watch it.


Stave Church

Stave Church

I’ve been lucky to visit Norway twice and fell in love with the cobalt blue sky, crystal clear water, excellent (albeit pricey) shopping, and terrific museums. The Fram Museum houses the specially built polar ship that carried Nansen north and Amundsen south. The Folk Museum, where the Stave Church is located–the interior of which was very dark and smelled like bacon–is an immense meadow outside of Oslo filled with period homes.

Related post: The Kitchen UN

It was at the Folk Museum that I learned the Norwegian words for King (Konge) and Queen (Dronning) when I bought a huge paper doll poster. Awkward to carry home, I had notions of framing it. I still do.

King, Queen, and costumes

If cut out, Konge and Dronning would be bigger than Barbie and Ken. Each doll has several different costumes, just like these smaller paper doll postcards of Norwegian folk costumes also purchased at the Folk Museum.Unni and Elin paper dollspaper doll from Norwaytraditional Norwegian paper dollsAllied costumes

The last paper doll postcard is the most interesting of all, as it looks like 1940’s fashions. Norway struggled under German occupation 1940-1945. When reading accounts of those days it doesn’t seem that many women were wearing ball gowns or fancy dresses.

Another mystery?

For a couple of years, I’ve been gathering notes for a thriller set in Oslo during WWII. It is loosely inspired by OSLO INTRIGUE, the real-life account of Helen Astrup, a British woman who worked for the Norwegian Resistance during the war.

I don’t know when I’ll write the thriller. Maybe after I finish the latest Detective Emilia Cruz.

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Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict.


Remembering Resistance

Remembering Resistance

In my travels, it has struck me that a culture reveals its true strength by what it chooses to remember and preserve.  Often that means museums, but it also means UNESCO World Heritage Sites, preserved or excated sites like Jordan’s Petra or Italy’s Pompeii, the music and folksongs and linguistic ideocyncracies that are gifts from one generation to another.

Sixty-five years after the end of WWII, here are a few thoughts on the way two countries have chosen to remember and preserve their resistance to Nazi occupation.


Norway’s Hjemmefrontmuseum, located in Akershus Castle in Oslo, is a world-class museum that lays out the history of the April 1940 German invasion of Norway, the Norwegian military’s spirited but overmatched defense, and the king’s narrow escape to London where he established the legitimate Norwegian government in exile while the Quisling government ruled in Hitler’s name.

In Norway, the shock of occupation  quickly gave way to anger and to an organized armed resistance effort. The British provided training, supplies, weapons, and clandestine transportation that became known as the Shetland Bus. Norwegian Resistance cells carried out commando raids and sabotage (the most famous actions being the destruction of the production capability of the Norsky Hydro heavy water plant–immortalized in the Kirk Douglas classic movie The Heroes of Telemark–that deprived the Nazi nuclear weapons development program of a vital component.)

The Norwegians’ ability to survive in the country’s wilderness areas and ski away from pursuit helped them survive to fight another day, but the death toll was high. The Germans retaliated with relentless hunts to find Resistance members and executed civilians in response to Resistance raids and destruction.

What the museum revealed

The museum, in addition to being located in an impressive historic castle guarding the Oslo Fjord, wins major points for display, authenticity, and heart, with an excellent collection of everything related to the Resistance, from clandestine newspapers to hidden radios to the log-shaped containers used to drop supplies to Resistance cells in remote locations.

Every display was eye-catching and well explained, with many personal accounts woven into the factual information.  The museum belongs to the Norwegian Defense Forces and the Resistance is a proud part of Norway’s military heritage.

As I wandered through the museum,  I found myself writing down bits and pieces of this fascinating national story and since have sought out memoirs of Resistance members, like Two Eggs on My Plate by Oluf Reid Olsen and We Die Alone by David Howarth. Touring the entire place took me over three hours both times that I have visited, not counting time spent in the bookshop.


In the Netherlands, the Dutch Resistance Museum, the Verzetsmuseum, was a different experience, reflecting that country’s different wartime situation. The museum is located in a rowhouse in a busy Amsterdam commercial district. It is a small, modern gem which has won several awards. But the nature of the resistance in the Netherlands was mostly a nonviolent movement, with small cells operating independently. Some sabotage and counterintelligence activities took place late in the war, as the Allied invasion of Europe loomed.

What the museum revealed

The museum’s permanent collection focused on how people endured the occupation. It took pains to point out the state of the country in the late 1930’s and I was struck by the high percentage of Dutch who lived below the poverty line at the beginning of the war. Needless to say, things only got worse during the occupation.

As I paid my admission fee I was told that it would take at least 2 hours to tour.  But 20 minutes later, I had seen all the exhibits and was wondering if I’d missed a  door to the rest of the place.

But mostly I was struck by the feeling that the museum had hidden an apology. Despite the exhibits of life during the war, the nameless but courageous couriers, and the gut-wrenching stories of those who had to kill informants in order to save the members of their resistance cells, there was a sense of sadness rather than the daring and triumph of the museum in Oslo.

It was as if the Verzetsmuseum acknowledged that it lives in the shadow of the Anne Frank House, just a few miles away and stunningly and comprehensively preserved.  That is the definitive story of Dutch resistance, a resistance of the heart and mind.

I wonder if there will be a National Resistance Museum of Syria.

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Mystery and thriller author. Retired Central Intelligence Agency intel officer. Dog mom to Hazel and Dutch. Recovering Italian handbag addict.


Carmen Amato at Spring Hill

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